The future of strategic intelligence

Commentary: Intelligence is increasingly operating in sectors that we would have previously thought to be completely alien to intelligence services.  Moreover, we are currently witnessing a particular mix of strategic intelligence, geopolitics and financial analysis

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There are currently three types of intelligence transformations, namely conceptual, technological and operational. 

In the first case, we are dealing with a new and original intelligence paradigm. 

From a mechanism based on the identification of the need for information-research-processing and analysis-dissemination-feedback, we are shifting to what some people already call "position intelligence".

In other words, we are coming to an information mechanism that continuously perceives data and processes it, and then spreads it permanently and continuously to those who have to use it.

While the old intelligence model was "positivist", i.e it concerned single objective and empirical data to be included in a decision-making process that is not determined by intelligence, currently it is instead a matter of building a continuous follow-up not of data, but of political behaviours, perceptions of reality by the enemy-opponent, as well as complex phenomena that constantly reach the intelligence matrix from different parts and areas.

While in the past intelligence was rhapsodic and temporary, à la carte of politicians, and sometimes even unsolicited and not requested, it currently becomes the stable core of political, strategic, economic and industrial decisions.

This obviously results in a new relationship between politicians and Intelligence Services. 

While, in an era we have already defined as "positivist", facts, news and the unknown novelties of the enemy-opponent counted, what currently matters is the ever more evident integration between the intelligence system and politicians.

There is obviously a danger not to be overlooked, i.e. the danger that - without even realizing it - the Intelligence Services take on responsibilities which must be typical of elective bodies only.

But certainly intelligence currently plays a much greater role than in the past.

Another key element of the conceptual transformation of intelligence is the use not only of highly advanced and powerful information technologies, but also of scientific paradigms which were unknown to us only a few years ago. 

Just think about Artificial Intelligence, but also cloud computing, algorithm theory and Markov chains - and here we confine ourselves to the mathematics that sustains current IT and computing. 

But there is also human ethology, an extraordinary evolution of Konrad Lorenz's animal ethology, as well as social psychology, sociological analysis and scientific depth psychology. 

A whole universe of theories that, in Kant's words, have recently shifted from metaphysics to science.

It must certainly be used to analyze, for example, mass behaviors that seem unpredictable, as well as the psychological reactions of both the ruling classes and the crowds, and the interactions between the various group behaviors of a country.

Nothing to do with the old Habsburg Evidenzbureau, which informed the General Staff of enemy troops’ movements or of the various generals’ lovers.

We here witness a substantial union between intelligence and political decision-making or, rather, between the thought produced by intelligence and the foundations of political decision-making.

The CIA often tried to poison Fidel Castro's beard. 

Today, apart from the doubtful rationality of that operation, it would be a matter of using - for example - advertising, TV series, Hollywood movies, the sugar, tourist or tobacco market cycles, not to poison late Fidel's beard, but to put the Cuban economy and decision-making system into structural crisis. 

The typical idea of Anglo-Saxon political culture – whereby, once the "tyrant" is eliminated, everything can be fine and back in place - has been largely denied by facts.

All this obviously without being noticed, as far as the operations for disrupting a country are concerned. 

Another factor of the conceptual transformation of intelligence is speed: currently the IT networks are such as to allow data collection in real time with respect to facts and hence favour wide-ranging decisions.

As far as technology is concerned, it is well known that both the AI networks, the new calculation structures, and the networks for listening and manipulating the enemy-opponent data are such as to allow operations which were previously not even imaginable.

At this juncture, however, there are two problems: everybody has all the same tools available and hence the danger of not "successfully completing" the operation is great, unlike when the Intelligence Services’ operations were based on the skills, role and dissimulation abilities of some operatives - or on confidential and restricted technologies.

The other problem is intelligence manipulation: a country that thinks to be a target can spread - in ad hoc networks - manipulated news, malware, data and information which are completely false, but plausible, and can modify the whole information system of the country under attack. 

Another problem of current intelligence technologies is their distance from the "traditional" political decision-making centres.

A politician, a Minister, a Premier must know what comes out of the intelligence system. Nevertheless, it is so specialized and sectorial that the distance between technical data processing and the "natural language" of politics is likely to make data ambiguous or unclear and of little use.

Moreover, there is a purely conceptual factor to be noted: if we put together the analysis of financial cycles, of technology change, of public finance and of political and military systems, we must connect systems that operate relatively autonomously from each other.

In other words, there is no "science of the whole" that can significantly connect such different sectors.

Therefore, there is the danger of projecting the effects of one sector onto another that is only slightly influenced by it, or of believing that, possibly, if the economy goes well, also the public debt - for example - will go well.

The room for political decision-making is therefore much wider than modern intelligence analysts believe. 

Political decision-making is still made up of history, political-cultural traditions and of perceptions of reality which are shaped by many years of psychological and conceptual training.

With specific reference to operativity, once again we are dealing with radical changes.

Years ago, there was the single "operative" who had to decide alone - or with very little support from the "Centre" - what to do on the spot and with whom to deal. 

Today, obviously, there is still the individual operative, but he/she is connected to the "Centre" in a different way and, in any case, imagines his/her role differently. 

On the level of political decision-making, intelligence is always operative, because reality is so complex and technically subtle that it no longer enables even the most experienced statesman to "follow their nose".

The primary paradox of the issue, however, is that intelligence cannot take on political roles that imply a choice between equivalent options. 

This is inevitably the sphere of politics. 

Another factor of the operational transformation is the inevitable presence of intelligence operatives in finance, in the scientific world, in high-level business consulting, in advertising, communication and media.

Intelligence has therefore progressively demilitarized itself and is increasingly operating in sectors that we would have previously thought to be completely alien to Intelligence Services. Instead, they are currently the central ones.

Moreover, we are currently witnessing a particular mix of strategic intelligence, geopolitics and financial analysis.

Why finance? Because it is the most mobile and widespread economic function. 

We are witnessing the birth of a new profession, namely currency geopolitics. 

Hence we are also witnessing the evolution of two new types of intelligence, namely market intelligence (MARKINT) and financial intelligence (FININT). 

An old and new problem is secrecy. The greater the extent to which old and new intelligence is used, the less it can keep secrecy, which is essential now as it was in the past.

What has always been the aim of strategic intelligence? To predict phenomena starting from a given context.

Contexts, however, change quickly and the interaction between sectors is such as to change the effect of forecasts.

The formalized techniques for analysis-decision making are manifold: intelligence data mining, “grid technologies”, knowledge creation and sharing, semantic analysis, key intelligence needs (KINS) and many others.

All operations which are often necessary, but currently we need to highlight two factors typical of the North American intelligence culture which, unfortunately, also negatively affects the models used by U.S. allies.

The first aspect is that, strangely enough, the same formal models are proposed for both companies and States.

A State does not have to maximize profits, while a corporation does, at least on a level playing field with its competitors.

A State is not a "competitor" of the others and ultimately a State has no specific "comparative advantage" but, on the contrary, some of its companies have, if this happens.

Therefore, the overlap between business intelligence, which is currently necessary, and States’ intelligence is a conceptual bias, typical of those who believe that a State is, as Von Mises said, "the joint stock company of those who pay taxes to it". 

For companies, it is obvious that all specific and original intelligence operations must be known to the State apparata, which may coordinate them or not, considering that they inevitably have additional data.

On the other hand, some business operations can become very useful for intelligence.

Hence a structure would be needed to put the two "lines" of operations together, and above all, a new intelligence concept is needed.

In the past, the Intelligence Services’ operations were largely defensive: to know something just before it happened, to avoid the adverse operations of a State hitting its own resources, but all with often minimal time limits.

Now we need expressly offensive intelligence which can hit the opponents’ (commercial, economic and strategic) networks before they move and in good time.

 

Professor Valori is President of the International World Group

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